Global society was forced to abruptly adopt social distancing and movement restrictions after the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020. These restrictions continue to negatively impact educational systems worldwide. This study engaged with Indigenous school administrators and educators taking part in the SIY study to understand the rapid decision-making processes taken to preserve school health during the pandemic. The original SIY study – a land-based active living intervention to promote mental and physical wellbeing among Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan, Canada – was adapted given recurring school lockdowns. Learnings from adaptation to remote engagement, knowledge mobilization, and school administrator and educator perspectives are shared to provide insight into how school and community safety were maintained while informing rapid changes to school health policies.
SIY takes a community-based, citizen science approach, which involves citizen participation, collaboration, and co-creation of knowledge by engaging citizens throughout the research process. A Citizen Scientist Advisory Council governed this project, including Traditional Knowledge Keepers, Elders, and youth. The research team worked closely with the council to 1) set up remote engagement to adapt the SIY study; 2) switch to remote data collection and knowledge dissemination, and; 3) revise SIY research questions to understand the impact of COVID-19 on school health policies. Qualitative video interviews were conducted over Zoom with educators and school administrator citizen scientists to learn about adaptation strategies required for remote engagement, land-based programming, and knowledge mobilization strategies to preserve school health.
The lessons learned during the pandemic stressed the need for flexibility in engagement, data collection and knowledge sharing, and research objectives. Research that evolves and adapts to community-identified priorities and needs is essential during crises and when doing community-based research. First, the SIY land-based program had to be adapted given school lockdowns remote learning restrictions. The research team developed a suite of themed motivational messages for each day of the week (e.g., “Move it Mondays,” “Take Care Tuesdays”) which were shared with youth via smartphones until it is permissible to return to land-based programming. In lieu of an evaluation of the land-based program, youth citizen scientists were administered a mobile survey and engaged for their feedback on the motivational messages. Educators and school administrators’ citizen scientists reported significant mental health issues among students and educators, indicating the need for long-term strategies to address mental health concerns. The rapid shift to digital tools, including remote video conferencing software and smartphone-based surveys, demonstrated their capacity for acquiring rich, qualitative data in a timely manner. However, digital literacy was reported as an area that schools needed to enhance, as it was a limiting factor for both educators and students to share resources and knowledge during the pandemic.
This study provides useful insights into the use of digital citizen science approaches for rapid response to societal crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital tools have great potential to adapt study designs, enable real-time engagement and knowledge sharing, particularly for rural and remote communities.Prasanna Kannan slides